The Island Near the Island
Standing on the western shore of Haiti and looking out to sea, the large land mass looks relatively close. It is the island of La Gonave, farther away than it appears because it’s high country rises 2,500 above sea level.
La Gonave is where two young doctors started their marriage. William Hypolite credits United Methodist Churches in South Dakota with supporting his education through medical school. He credits the island of La Gonave with saving his life.
Hypolite was a student at the medical school in Port Au Prince when the earthquake struck in 2010. Much of Port Au Prince was destroyed, and nearly a quarter of a million people lost their lives.
Hypolite was working at a mobile medical clinic on La Gonave at the time. “It is for that reason that I’m alive today,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time La Gonave was a refuge for Hypolite. His mother died when he was 16-years-old, and he and his siblings had to find a new place to live. Hypolite ended up on La Gonave with his uncle. Lack of doctors on La Gonave is what inspired Hypolite to enter medicine as a profession. His uncle, a lay speaker serving as a pastor at a Methodist church in La Gonave, found financial support for Hypolite’s schooling from some United Methodist churches in South Dakota where he had a connection.
Because of the earthquake in Haiti, to finish his medical school Hypolite had to move to the Dominican Republic and essentially start over. But he told La Gonave he would return.
“I promised I would come back after medical school, but it wasn’t easy,” Hypolite said. “While in school in the Dominican Republic we always had electricity, internet … access to everything that you need.”
It was in his last year medical school in the Dominican Republic that Hypolite met his wife-to-be, Dr. Nathalie Laguerre. They married, with plans to return to La Gonave. At first she was nervous about moving to the island, but she has grown accustomed to it.
“I love what I’m doing,” she said. “I see that I can help a lot by being here.”
Their son, Nathan, was born six months ago. Complications with the pregnancy meant that he was born via C-Section at a hospital in the Dominican Republic.
Laguerre worked a year in the Wesleyan hospital, and now works at an NGO (non-governmental organization) clinic. She and Hypolite live above his clinic, which includes an exam room, a recovery room and a pharmacy. Their home upstairs includes extra rooms so that it can be converted into a guesthouse for visiting healthcare practitioners.
The two doctors agree that the top health problems they see on La Gonave are high blood pressure, diabetes, malaria and typhoid. They have ambitions to multiply their effectiveness by training health agents who will be able to help them keep up with assessing patients conditions in remote areas.
One ambitious effort is at a Methodist church. Over a period of three months, 12 classes are being conducted at a Methodist church for two hours, once a week on Sundays. The class is for young people and is free. It is taught by two doctors and a nurse. Upon completion the students will be medical assistants. It has 60 students.
At the clinic where the doctors live the only services that are free are screenings and treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes. Hypolite sees about 20-30 people weekly for this. With the mobile clinic on the mountain they may see 200 patients in a day. The couple hopes that by having more trained medical assistants they will be able to better monitor patients with chronic conditions that can only be reached by a journey of several hours via motorcycle.
In addition to the training at the Methodist church, the couple are also conducting trainings at the nearby Rob Marchand Elementary School for a smaller number of students.
They need to have more local people trained as certified medical assistants, so when either the Haiti health ministry or an NGO comes to the island to conduct a large scale vaccination clinic or provide some other public health service they have people available to assist with the clinic.
Their work is receiving support from United Methodist in the Midwest. Kalaba Chali was on staff with First in St. Charles, working with college ministry, when he made his first trip to Haiti, as part of the Missouri Conference’s water filter project. He moved to the Great Plains Conference in 2014.
After a period of evaluation, Great Plains decided to prioritize their efforts in Haiti around supporting local Haitian people who were attempting to do good work.
“We’re on alert not to create a dependency on our funding, but to rather find someone who is doing a great job and support their work,” Chali said.
A medical supply business in Kansas is donating a container of medical equipment that is going to be shipped to La Gonave.
Later this year a group of nursing students from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Omaha will be traveling to La Gonave to provide assistance at health clinics. The Missouri Annual Conference is shifting its focus in Haiti moving forward. Local churches with strong relational ties to Haiti will be encouraged to continue their missional work with support from Global Connect (VIM) resourcing of volunteer teams. But, the recent visit to La Gonave signaled an end to Missouri Conference-funded and initiated missional programming with Eglise Méthodiste d’Haïti (EMH). As a symbol of thanksgiving and appreciation for the relationship over the past two decades, the Missouri Conference shared a financial gift of $25,000 with the Great Plains Conference to assist them in their work in health ministries with the Methodists in Haiti. Additionally, there is a forthcoming gift of $60,000 to EMH planned which will be dedicated to the construction of latrines which are essential in pursuit of clean water.
“We see this an opportunity to partner with the Great Plains Conference and utilize some of our remaining funds dedicated to Haiti to provide a boost to the great the work they are doing,” said Missouri Conference Director of Mission, Service and Justice Tina L. Harris.